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Ha Sang Beg

Seoul Fashion Week S/S 09

"We aim to have Seoul become one of the five top fashion cities,"

 "We aim to have Seoul become one of the five top fashion cities," proclaimed dashing Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon during a televised media conference with a small gathering of international fashion journalists including Seoul's guest star Diane Pernet. "It is perhaps an aggressive and rather bold goal," Oh Se-hoon continued before asking the group to volunteer their criticisms in the surprise public forum.

Some voices insightfully addressed the need for Seoul to entice buyers by relaxing the import tax or co-ordinating with Tokyo's fashion week, and everyone gushed about young designers.  But the consensus afterwards was that Seoul should scrap the mostly tedious and anachronistic daily grind of shows at the Setec Fashion Fair (with a few outstanding exceptions), and instead focus on the fresh, innovative and quintessentially young Korean and international designers who exhibited off-site at the Daily Projects and De_Vill spaces. Production aesthetics at most of the Setec show had not been seen by visiting Western journalists since Aaron Spelling sent his soap opera characters to fashion shows and the Bob Mackie-inspired clothes would have looked gaudy on a Barbie. But the exceptions were remarkably sleek, accessible, artistic and cosmopolitan

Here are six designers (in no particular order) who showed during Seoul´s Fashion Week and are set to have London and New York feel their hot breath on their backs, as they give the big fashion capitals a real run for their money.

* London might boast of Henry Holland´s bountiful energy and Alexander McQueen´s killer cuts, but Seoul offers a synthesis of the irreverent, irrepressible best of both in Ha Sang Beg.  A true pop polymath, Ha Sang Beg presents a hugely popular style program on Mnet (Korea's version of MTV), is an internationally known star DJ, former top Korean model and was schooled in tailoring at Central Saint Martins. For his second solo show, Ha kicked off with local boy-band star Shinee from GroupSinger, clad in white and lugging an ominous silver bat like the gentlemanly dressed degenerates in A Clockwork Orange or Funny Games. The show then popped with acid-bright draped tank tops, swinging mini-dresses adorned with soft puckered dinosaur scales, and a sleek silver sequined bomber jacket. The aesthetic was young but Ha Sang Beg demonstrates timeless tailoring. Like all lasting talents, Hang Sang Beg married youthful irreverence with mature eloquence.

* While Ha serves as the style Virgil for Seoul´s hip youth, Korean Grande Dame Lee Younghee brings her modernized version of traditional Korean dress into elegant European closets. Younghee, who has presented her streamlined, sophisticated and masterfully made modernised versions of Hanbok (traditional Korean dress) in the Paris Collections, offered an array of lady-like layered dresses and mature, but not matronly, gowns. Younghee´s Setec show climaxed with a model shrouded in a sheer black veil, which she dramatically raised to reveal a perfect billowing column of breath-taking dove grey and fiery orange Korean silk.

* A similar potent orange was seen later in the week at New Generation designer Ye Ranji´s debut show. Inspired by Frida Karlo, Korean designer Ye Ranji´s gentle lines and rich hues for her new label, 'The Centaur,' cleverly skimmed the cream off Karlo´s surrealism to create a strong, assertive, wearable style. Like Karlo, Ye Ranji gracefully combined masculine and feminine signifiers. Her models walked through the intimate De Vill Whoa-Su-Mok off-site space in oversized pleated trousers and bulky man-sized suit jackets paired with silk, floral rombers and flowing slinky silk jumpsuits. Ye Ranji´s collection has a clear-eyed elegance befitting a woman like Karlo, who famously stated "Really I do not know whether my paintings are surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the frankest expression of myself."

* In a similar spirit Dutch designers Brigitte Hendrix and Jolanda van den Broek stated, "For us Korea is about the freedom to express yourself." The pair´s ...And Beyond show was a strong highlight of the emerging international talent displayed through the two New Generation spaces. ...And Beyond presented dresses, leggings, tights and linings for sculpted jackets printed with post-apocalyptic cityscapes featuring skulls and nuclear sunsets. The colors were bright but the mood was compellingly gothic. "Through our work, we express what we believe, think and feel," the designers continued. "We
hope that the Korean fashionscene recognizes a kindred soul in our work."

* Jain by Jain Song represented a generational rather than individual identity with cool kid attire modeled to the intriguing atmospheric sounds of Andrew Hogge (aka DJ Lovefingers).  Bleach-stained denim, silk-screened tank tops, bulky back-packs and open-top flat booties offered a refreshing reprise to all the fluffy and folly seen during the day on Setec´s runways. Youth style in Seoul is typically groomed and grown-up. Young people mostly wear black and exhibit pulled-together Parisian chic, but Jain´s casual cool offered a counterpoint - evidence that Seoul is also a city with an artistically
viable, vibrant, flexible and sensual underground.

* But for the mainstream Korean audiences looking to fashion for fun, Gee Chong Lee´s frothy, saucy, Miss Gee Collection show did more than just meticulously reference Hollywood´s golden era glamour; it embraced it body and soul. With the highest production values on view, Chong Lee employed Korea´s roster of regional supermodels like Jin Hye Han, who walked in New York, Paris and London, to saunter to Frank Sinatra down the Setec catwalk past a packed house of local celebrities and enthusiastic fans. Chong Lee´s ladies sashayed in smart little suits, sculpted skirts and Grecian goddess gowns. The designer known to attire Korea´s stars and starlets for the red carpet paid ample homage to Edith Head, Hubert de Givenchy and Dior´s New Look.  But sharp tailoring and the feral femme fatale sexuality of models such as fiercely foxy Korean supermodel Song Kyung-ah gave the show its own fresh jolt of pure luxurious, frenetic glamour.